Located 10km north of the centre of Paris, Saint-Denis started life as the village of Catolacus before adopting the name of a Christian martyr buried there after his beheading on nearby Montmartre. His tomb became a place of worship, and a chapel was built on it until, around 630AD, King Dagobert I turned it into a royal monastery, which he granted independence from the Bishop of Paris. Some 75 kings and queens, from Dagobert I to Louis XVIII, are buried in the Cathedral Basilica of Saint-Denis.
Known as Franciade during the French Revolution, the prevalence of socialist administrations at the start of the last century earned it the nickname 'la Ville Rouge' (the Red City). Hard hit by the decline of heavy industry in the 1970s, the construction of the Stade de France and arrival of the metro brought fresh impetus to the place thought to have the most youthful population in the country.
"The town of dead kings and living people," according to poet Jean Marcenac, Saint-Denis is a living history book, with its most attractive symbol the Basilica built in honour of Saint-Denis, the first Bishop of Paris who was decapitated in 280.
A medieval town, royal burial place, capital of the Industrial Revolution and working-class city, Saint-Denis has changed greatly but has always adapted to the times. After the Liberation of France, along with the rest of the country, Saint-Denis experienced major economic development, marked in particular by an industrial boom. After the economic crises of the 1970s, Saint-Denis went through an unprecedented 30-year period of change. No other area in Ile-de-France has undergone comparable demographic growth.
The opening of the Stade de France in 1998 certainly made the third-largest urban area in Ile-de-France the centre of attention. Saint-Denis has a dynamic attitude and looks to the future but has also attended to its heritage, as demonstrated by the superb Museum of Art and History. All this ... just five Métro stops from Paris.
• Paul Éluard, poet (1895–1952): a devotee of surrealism, he made poetry his way of life
• Joey Starr, rapper and actor (1967–): leader of the NTM group, he changed direction to embark on a successful acting career
• Grand Corps Malade, singer (1977–): popularised slam poetry in France, winner of two Victoires de la Musique awards
• Le Comte de Bouderbala, comedian (1979–): a former Algerian international basketball player, Samy Ameziane has become a successful stand-up
• Christophe and Fabrice Tiozzo, boxers (1963– and 1969– ): both world champions at different weights in the early 1990s
THINGS TO SEE
• La Plaine: Now an unmissable part of Saint-Denis heritage, a visit to the Stade de France (entry: €15) also allows you to discover the booming La Plaine district. For an insight into the character of Saint-Denis and an overview of the town, go to the historical centre with its impressive Saint-Denis Basilica and nearby Museum of Art and History.
• Diverse dining: A wide range of restaurants to suit every budget can be found around the Stade de France as well as in the town centre near the Basilica. The cuisine offered in Saint-Denis is a reflection of the local population – varied and multi-ethnic.
• Place Jean Jaurès market: Just 300m from the Saint-Denis Basilica, a former Carmelite monastery has housed the Museum of Art and History since 1981. A stone's throw away is the impressive Hôtel de Ville civic building and then it's a short stroll to the famous Place Jean Jaurès market and its 300 stalls (open Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays until 15.00).
• Wilson Gardens: Created in 1998, the Pierre de Montreuil Garden is adjacent to the Basilica. The Wilson Gardens are also worth a detour and take the form of a 1.3km-long promenade with lawns, benches and children's play areas.
• Maison Coignet: With its concrete mouldings, cornices and balustrades, Maison Coignet at 72 Rue Charles Michels was the first house in France to use concrete as a building material, making it a veritable masterpiece in the history of world architecture.
• Shopping area: The centre of Saint-Denis is a completely pedestrianised, attractive area, especially around its two main streets, Rue de la République and Rue Gabriel Péri. There are some 150 shops here, while the Basilique shopping centre has 85 retail outlets.
Located to the north of Paris, and less than an hour and a half from other major European capitals, Saint-Denis is very easily reached by air from the nearby Roissy Charles-de-Gaulle international airport. This international hub is complemented by the Paris Le Bourget airport, used for business aviation, which lies even closer to Saint-Denis.
The high-speed rail network can be accessed at the Paris-Nord station (TGV Nord, Eurostar and Thalys services). The railway station at Roissy Charles-de-Gaulle airport provides TGV and RER (rapid transit rail) services with links to many major cities in France and the rest of Europe.
Saint-Denis is also served by several Métro, bus and tram lines offering quick access to Paris. The simplest route from the capital to Saint-Denis is via line 13 of the Métro. For the centre of Saint-Denis, get off at Basilique de Saint-Denis station. For the Stade de France, the Saint-Denis-Porte de Paris stop is the closest. Another option is to take the RER B line (to La Plaine-Stade de France station) or RER D (Stade de France-Saint-Denis station).
Distances to other UEFA EURO 2016 venues
Paris – 15km
Lens – 195km
Lille – 215km
Lyon – 480km
Saint-Etienne – 540km
Bordeaux – 600km
Toulouse – 695km
Marseille – 790km
Nice – 955km
Distances between city centres, by motorway where possible
Source: mappy - viamichelin
Saint-Denis is connected to Paris by Métro lines 12 and 13. Saint-Denis has five Métro stations, three RER stations, two tram lines as well as 17 bus routes affording convenient links to Paris and other towns in Ile-de-France. As in Paris, tickets can be bought in Métro and RER stations, as well as in many local retail outlets (newspaper and tobacco kiosks). A single ticket costs €1.70.
Football became a major part of Saint-Denis life with the laying of the foundation stone of the Stade de France in La Plaine district on 6 September 1995. Designed by four French architects (Michel Macary, Aymeric Zubléna, Michel Regembal and Claude Constantini), the 80,000-capacity stadium was constructed to host the 1998 FIFA World Cup final.
The inaugural match was played in January 1998, a friendly between France and Spain. Les Bleus won 1-0 after a goal from Zinédine Zidane, the first player to score at the new ground. It was then that the Stade de France started to weave its magic.
Three games stand out in the history of the stadium and the French national team. On 3 July 1998, France eliminated Italy in a tense World Cup quarter-final (4-3 on penalties); five days later they beat Croatia 2-1 to reach the final; then, on 12 July, Les Bleus were crowned world champions after a 3-0 victory in a memorable showpiece against Ronaldo's Brazil. The match, in which Zidane struck twice, led to euphoric scenes and a celebration of multiracial France.
The Stade de France has staged over 75 home matches for France and is considered a lucky ground for the French – they have only lost 11 times. The most recent high-stakes encounter came on 19 November 2013 in a World Cup play-off. Didier Deschamps' side overcame a 2-0 first leg deficit to defeat Ukraine 3-0 in a frantic game and secure their ticket to the 2014 World Cup. The Stade de France will host the final of UEFA EURO 2016.
This is sure to be another wonderful occasion for Saint-Denis and in particular the 1,000 members of its leading football club, Saint-Denis Union Sports.
• Azzedine Meguellati (1960–): the former coach of FC Istres, Meguelatti currently manages two clubs: Racing CF-Levallois 92 and UJA Alfortville
• Olivier Thomas (1974–): winner of the UEFA Intertoto Cup in 2001 with ES Troyes AC, now a players' agent
• Grégory Cerdan (1982–): a central defender playing for EA Guingamp, Cerdan was a mainstay for Le Mans UC 72 from 2003 to 2011
• Jonathan Kodjia (1989–): after six seasons at Stade de Reims and numerous loans, the Ivory Coast striker has signed for Angers SCO
• Jean-Christophe Bahebeck (1993–): the Paris Saint-Germain forward who was part of the French team that won the 2013 FIFA U-20 World Cup
Did you know?
Every year over 80,000 people visit the Stade de France just to tread the same turf as the 1998 world champions.
In 2007 Saint-Denis welcomed the Rugby World Cup, with the final between England and South Africa held at the Stade de France. The Springboks lifted the trophy. The Stade de France also hosts France's matches in the Six Nations rugby tournament as well as the AREVA international athletics meeting.
Saint-Denis has staged an international half-marathon, the Voie Royale, every October since 1993. The event involves more than 3,500 runners, 350 volunteers and 23 associations. Over one in ten of the residents of Saint-Denis are members of a sports club.
Town of Saint-Denis: http://mairiedesaintdenis1.ecritel.net/jcms/jcms/j_6/accueil
Tourist information office: http://mairiedesaintdenis1.ecritel.net/jcms/jcms/w_5829/office-de-tourisme-saint-denis-plaine-commune
Stade de France: http://mairiedesaintdenis1.ecritel.net/jcms/jcms/sd_8909/stade-de-france
Saint-Denis Basilica: http://mairiedesaintdenis1.ecritel.net/jcms/jcms/sd_8892/basilique-de-saint-denis
Saint-Denis – 2,000 years of history: http://mairiedesaintdenis1.ecritel.net/jcms/jcms/sd_11929/2-000-ans-d-histoire
Stade de France official site: www.stadefrance.com